Chittenden County Homebuilding Campaign Is Falling Far Short of Its Goal | Housing Crisis | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Chittenden County Homebuilding Campaign Is Falling Far Short of Its Goal


Published October 23, 2023 at 11:15 a.m.

  • © Andrii Yalanskyi | Dreamstime
A prominent housing campaign in Vermont’s most populous region is falling far short of its goal to build 1,000 new units of housing annually in Chittenden County.

The Building Homes Together campaign, a project of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission and the developers Champlain Housing Trust and Evernorth, counted 594 new homes in the county last year — just 59 percent of the goal they announced in 2021. This year, it’s projecting 532 will be constructed by the end of the year. In 2024, 808 are expected to be built.

That rate of construction will make it difficult to reach the 5,000 in five years that the coalition called for as awareness of Vermont’s housing crisis was growing.

The groups are also falling far short of their goal to build 250 units of permanently affordable housing each year. Just 151 units were built in 2021, and 110 in 2022. This year, 113 are expected to be completed.
On Monday, members of the campaign thanked lawmakers for millions of dollars in new spending for housing, starting with the $37 million housing bond approved in 2017. In each of the past three years, the legislature has allocated  between $110 million and $140 million in state and federal funding to housing, according to Building Homes Together. They said on Monday that it's critical to keep the money coming.

"The housing shortage developed over decades; this recent level of investment from the state needs to continue for several more years," the campaign said.

The housing shortage is causing pain for renters and homeowners who are being priced out of the places they want to live and exacerbating misery for people who cannot find a home at all and are in temporary shelters or outside. It’s also creating havoc at the many companies that are trying to hire new workers, said Charlie Baker, the executive director of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission.

“I don’t know how much more employers can sustain this,” said Baker, who described the situation as a housing market failure. “We know there are a lot of jobs going unfilled.”
  • Courtesy Champlain Housing Trust
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Vermont's longtime housing problem, detailed in the Seven Days series Locked Out, is complex. High materials prices, a low supply of labor, and local and state permitting restrictions all play a role. Growth in Chittenden County’s population over the past few years has added to the pressure, and a recent spike in interest rates  has curtailed borrowing, making development even more difficult.

The campaign's solutions are complex, too. It's working with cities and towns to ease regulations, but some groups and individuals are concerned that changes could damage community character, quality of life and environmental goals. Baker also hopes to chip away at Act 250, the statewide land-use law, which limits development.

“I’ll be encouraging the legislature to look at the state’s role in regulatory barriers," Baker said. Policy makers have been studying proposed changes to Act 250 this year. “There will need to be some thoughtful work done there."

Last year, Vermont lawmakers passed a package of legislation called the HOME Act, or Housing Opportunities for Everyone, that whittled back some of the permitting rules that block home construction. Baker hopes lawmakers will build on that foundation when they return to the Statehouse in January.

The legislative panel where the HOME Act originated last year, the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs, is already at work on next year's housing bill. Members are discussing ways to reduce duplication in the permitting process and to help people who lost their homes in the July flooding,  chair Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale (D-Chittenden Southeast) said on Sunday.

“Some people are calling it HOME Act II,” Ram Hinsdale said. “It’s my major priority in the upcoming session.”

Since Building Homes Together set its initial goal in 2021, demand has actually grown beyond what the campaign projected, and even 5,000 new homes in five years wouldn't be enough, according to a housing needs assessment that the town of Williston completed earlier this year. Only 463 new homes are expected to be built in Williston through 2025; the plan says Williston needs about 594 in that time to create a balanced housing market. With a rental vacancy rate at less than 1 percent, the homes that are available are not affordable to many.

"Most people who work in Williston cannot afford to live in Williston," the assessment said. 

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